Nature Prescription

For the last year, doctors on Scotland’s Shetland Islands have been given the OK to treat patients with nature. The idea for these “green prescriptions” — whether going for a walk, beachcombing or birdwatching — takes its cue from the many studies showing that spending time outdoors provides a boost in treating chronic and debilitating illnesses. Patients afflicted with mental illness, diabetes, heart disease, stress and other conditions are prime candidates. A local magazine provides regular suggestions for how they can “take” their dose.

While this doesn’t replace traditional medication, health practitioners on the islands say it sure does help. “I personally have experienced the benefit of being out in nature — both the physical well-being it brings but also the mental improvement,” says Dr. Ruth Booth, a general practitioner in the Shetlands. “Encouraging people to slow down, be part of the environment, enjoy the beauty and be mindful of what they are seeing has huge benefit.”

A study of a similar program in England bears this out: It showed that six months after receiving the nature prescriptions, 63 percent of patients were more active and 46 percent had lost weight.

So don’t be surprised if sometime soon your doctor recommends a walk in the woods.